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After 50+ years of avoiding cruise ship travel (like the plague), I finally broke down and gave it a shot... sadly, over the 2016 Thanksgiving 7-day cruise aboard the mid-class Carnival Miracle. As a seasoned world traveler with many, many weeks of destination vacationing and adventurng under my belt, I admit to being less than excited from the very beginning. However, as the consumer paying all the bills, I'm the one who needs to be wowed and impressed... not the other way around. Bottom line, this Carnival vacation was mostly a "bust the blue card cherry" experience for me (more on that later). High points include time spent with the Spirit Dawgs (special thanks to everyone!) and brief shore visits to Cabo and Porto Vallarta. Low points include a horrible embarkation experience and a virtual absence of serenity (including the so called "Serenity Deck") throughout the ship. The 'Fun Ship Carnival' marketing theme is patently overused and quickly becomes irritating. Specifically, as a special guest of a coveted Platinum Cruise member, I should have receiving some VIP treatment during embarkation. Instead, Mary (a mostly grumpy, unfriendly Carnival check-in agent) began my 'Blue Card' initiation with a shockingly rude directive to "get happy" after asking the simplest of questions. Mary completely obliterated a golden opportunity to make my first 30 minutes of Carnival cruising painless and pleasant. Needless to say, her absolutely unnecessary and extremely poor customer service stained my first impression of Carnival and instilled a lasting, negative bias for my entire cruise. Thankfully, three Diamond members (only 10 total on this cruise) were part of my travel group. Along with several Platinum members, they collectively began a more civil and 'fun' Blue Card initiation process, which started with buying my first overpriced drink of the day. This gentle chiding helped get me through the dull (mandatory) muster drill. As a former college 'frat boy', I quickly recalled my chugging skills (no drinks allowed into embarkation briefing) and endured 30 minutes of attentively listening to 5 minutes of meaningful sea survival instruction. It's a good thing I didn't hide out in my stateroom as that's also frowned upon. :) With the unpleasant formalities of embarkation firmly burned into my first impression memories, a thickly foreign accented cruise director then officially instructed us to start "having fun". I recall looking around and asking one of my Platinum cruise mates "is there a place we have to report for that now too?" I had a sinking feeling that "having fun" would somehow be worked into everything Carnival expected of me for the rest of the cruise. Frequent Carnival cruisers know from experience that holidays aboard ship are littered with families and children. However, as a single, never married 50 year old bachelor with zero cruise experience, my week aboard the Miracle was clearly destined for chaos. After days of searching for a peaceful spot to relax and unwind (other than my stateroom), I can honestly say that the ship's library offers the only hope of finding 'serenity' aboard a Carnival holiday cruise. My experience with the so called 'Serenity Deck' was to discover adult passengers vigorously partying at all times of the day often in the 'Serenity Pool'. With plenty of appropriate partying locations throughout the ship (Lido Deck, Press Box, Frog Pub, Disco, etc.) I sternly criticize Carnival management for not preserving this one area of the ship as a quiet, peaceful respite from the throngs of families and holiday party goers. Some other random thoughts: 1) Casino: Avoid gaming with Carnival. Machines and tables pay poorly. For starters, you won't find a single or double deck blackjack dealer anywhere. Carnival ONLY uses automatic shufflers. If you play less than $10 hands, expect house-favoring 6-5 odds on blackjack. The (solo) craps table is staffed with unfriendly crew who delight in commenting how much the house is loosing when you roll your point. Clearly, management emphasizes house profits over client entertainment. After 30 minutes and $50 in winnings, I was made to feel as if I had personally robbed the casino blind. Ugg... 2) Food: With the clear exception of the fabulous (independently operated) Steakhouse Restaurant, most of Carnival's food offerings are average at best. After years of hearing how wonderful food was aboard cruise ships, I was left mostly wanting. The Bacchus Dining Room is hit or miss depending on time of day. Breakfast was generally passable with typical omelette and pancake offerings. Dinner, on the other hand, ranged from awful (prime rib) to passable (flat iron steak). Surprisingly, I discovered the best food options in the Lido Buffet, specifically the 'Deli' and 'Good Eats'. Avoid Carnival pizza and burgers. According to the Platinum and Diamond travelers I dined with, food quality has declined significantly over the years. 3) Entertainment: If it wasn't for the talent, patience and humor of 'Greg the Piano Dude', most of Carnival's entertainment options are stale, mechanical and 'so-so' at best. Admittedly, I didn't attend most offerings, but then again neither did my Platinum and Diamond travel companions. On most evenings, we created our own party environment frequently evoking comments of "hey, can we join YOUR party" from crew entertainers. Yikes... 4) Stateroom: Mostly compliments in this aspect of Carnival cruising. Though somewhat dated (bathroom area), I felt that accommodations were above average. The housekeeping staff was among the best i encountered; always pleasant, attentive and highly trained. 5) Upselling: Oh... I almost forgot. Carnival is first and foremost about extracting every dollar it can from customers. Experienced travelers are keenly aware (and desensitized) to this distasteful aspect of Carnival cruising. As a first time cruiser, I admit to being unpleasantly surprised by the ferocious intensity of 'upselling' all week. Virtually everything from excessive photo opportunities to room service surcharges for french fries (imagine that!). Prior to my cruise, I had been warned NOT to purchase a beverage card. As it turned out, I ended up spending $50-100 per day for drinks. When you factor in off-board shore time, it's basically a wash when considering a $500 beverage pass. Final thoughts... Holiday cruising with Carnival is not for everyone, especially single, well-traveled 'older' bachelors. My personal experience is certainly biased by years of pampering at higher end all-inclusive gourmet resorts (also in Mexico). Similarly, when I want a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing vacation sharply focused on scuba diving, fishing and/or local site seeing, Carnival cruising is clearly not the best venue. On a brighter note, I am thrilled and relieved to have completed my Carnival 'Blue Card' initiation cruise. I now know, first hand, what it is like to 'get happy' the Carnival way! Perhaps my honest review will help some of you avoid the First Cruise 'Blue Card Initiation' Blues and achieve that highly coveted state of nirvana frequently described by other Carnival cruisers.

First Cruise 'Blue Card Initiation' Blues

Carnival Miracle Cruise Review by ToddSD

7 people found this helpful
Trip Details
After 50+ years of avoiding cruise ship travel (like the plague), I finally broke down and gave it a shot... sadly, over the 2016 Thanksgiving 7-day cruise aboard the mid-class Carnival Miracle. As a seasoned world traveler with many, many weeks of destination vacationing and adventurng under my belt, I admit to being less than excited from the very beginning. However, as the consumer paying all the bills, I'm the one who needs to be wowed and impressed... not the other way around.

Bottom line, this Carnival vacation was mostly a "bust the blue card cherry" experience for me (more on that later). High points include time spent with the Spirit Dawgs (special thanks to everyone!) and brief shore visits to Cabo and Porto Vallarta. Low points include a horrible embarkation experience and a virtual absence of serenity (including the so called "Serenity Deck") throughout the ship.

The 'Fun Ship Carnival' marketing theme is patently overused and quickly becomes irritating. Specifically, as a special guest of a coveted Platinum Cruise member, I should have receiving some VIP treatment during embarkation. Instead, Mary (a mostly grumpy, unfriendly Carnival check-in agent) began my 'Blue Card' initiation with a shockingly rude directive to "get happy" after asking the simplest of questions. Mary completely obliterated a golden opportunity to make my first 30 minutes of Carnival cruising painless and pleasant. Needless to say, her absolutely unnecessary and extremely poor customer service stained my first impression of Carnival and instilled a lasting, negative bias for my entire cruise.

Thankfully, three Diamond members (only 10 total on this cruise) were part of my travel group. Along with several Platinum members, they collectively began a more civil and 'fun' Blue Card initiation process, which started with buying my first overpriced drink of the day. This gentle chiding helped get me through the dull (mandatory) muster drill. As a former college 'frat boy', I quickly recalled my chugging skills (no drinks allowed into embarkation briefing) and endured 30 minutes of attentively listening to 5 minutes of meaningful sea survival instruction. It's a good thing I didn't hide out in my stateroom as that's also frowned upon. :)

With the unpleasant formalities of embarkation firmly burned into my first impression memories, a thickly foreign accented cruise director then officially instructed us to start "having fun". I recall looking around and asking one of my Platinum cruise mates "is there a place we have to report for that now too?" I had a sinking feeling that "having fun" would somehow be worked into everything Carnival expected of me for the rest of the cruise.

Frequent Carnival cruisers know from experience that holidays aboard ship are littered with families and children. However, as a single, never married 50 year old bachelor with zero cruise experience, my week aboard the Miracle was clearly destined for chaos. After days of searching for a peaceful spot to relax and unwind (other than my stateroom), I can honestly say that the ship's library offers the only hope of finding 'serenity' aboard a Carnival holiday cruise. My experience with the so called 'Serenity Deck' was to discover adult passengers vigorously partying at all times of the day often in the 'Serenity Pool'. With plenty of appropriate partying locations throughout the ship (Lido Deck, Press Box, Frog Pub, Disco, etc.) I sternly criticize Carnival management for not preserving this one area of the ship as a quiet, peaceful respite from the throngs of families and holiday party goers.

Some other random thoughts:

1) Casino: Avoid gaming with Carnival. Machines and tables pay poorly. For starters, you won't find a single or double deck blackjack dealer anywhere. Carnival ONLY uses automatic shufflers. If you play less than $10 hands, expect house-favoring 6-5 odds on blackjack. The (solo) craps table is staffed with unfriendly crew who delight in commenting how much the house is loosing when you roll your point. Clearly, management emphasizes house profits over client entertainment. After 30 minutes and $50 in winnings, I was made to feel as if I had personally robbed the casino blind. Ugg...

2) Food: With the clear exception of the fabulous (independently operated) Steakhouse Restaurant, most of Carnival's food offerings are average at best. After years of hearing how wonderful food was aboard cruise ships, I was left mostly wanting. The Bacchus Dining Room is hit or miss depending on time of day. Breakfast was generally passable with typical omelette and pancake offerings. Dinner, on the other hand, ranged from awful (prime rib) to passable (flat iron steak). Surprisingly, I discovered the best food options in the Lido Buffet, specifically the 'Deli' and 'Good Eats'. Avoid Carnival pizza and burgers. According to the Platinum and Diamond travelers I dined with, food quality has declined significantly over the years.

3) Entertainment: If it wasn't for the talent, patience and humor of 'Greg the Piano Dude', most of Carnival's entertainment options are stale, mechanical and 'so-so' at best. Admittedly, I didn't attend most offerings, but then again neither did my Platinum and Diamond travel companions. On most evenings, we created our own party environment frequently evoking comments of "hey, can we join YOUR party" from crew entertainers. Yikes...

4) Stateroom: Mostly compliments in this aspect of Carnival cruising. Though somewhat dated (bathroom area), I felt that accommodations were above average. The housekeeping staff was among the best i encountered; always pleasant, attentive and highly trained.

5) Upselling: Oh... I almost forgot. Carnival is first and foremost about extracting every dollar it can from customers. Experienced travelers are keenly aware (and desensitized) to this distasteful aspect of Carnival cruising. As a first time cruiser, I admit to being unpleasantly surprised by the ferocious intensity of 'upselling' all week. Virtually everything from excessive photo opportunities to room service surcharges for french fries (imagine that!). Prior to my cruise, I had been warned NOT to purchase a beverage card. As it turned out, I ended up spending $50-100 per day for drinks. When you factor in off-board shore time, it's basically a wash when considering a $500 beverage pass.

Final thoughts...

Holiday cruising with Carnival is not for everyone, especially single, well-traveled 'older' bachelors. My personal experience is certainly biased by years of pampering at higher end all-inclusive gourmet resorts (also in Mexico). Similarly, when I want a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing vacation sharply focused on scuba diving, fishing and/or local site seeing, Carnival cruising is clearly not the best venue.

On a brighter note, I am thrilled and relieved to have completed my Carnival 'Blue Card' initiation cruise. I now know, first hand, what it is like to 'get happy' the Carnival way! Perhaps my honest review will help some of you avoid the First Cruise 'Blue Card Initiation' Blues and achieve that highly coveted state of nirvana frequently described by other Carnival cruisers.
ToddSD’s Full Rating Summary
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